Health Information

L-Theanine

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Uses

Alternate Names/Related Terms

Principal Proposed Uses

Other Proposed Uses

L-theanine is a water-soluble amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. L-theanine has been studied for its possible health benefits, ranging from cancer and stroke prevention to weight loss . However, most research on the amino acid has been conducted to assess its stress-relieving effects. 1

Sources

L-theanine is found mainly in tea (eg, green tea and black tea ), and to a less extent in mushrooms. L-theanine is also available in its purified form as an oral dietary supplement. 1

Therapeutic Dosages

Optimal doses of tea or its constituents are not known.

Therapeutic Uses

L-theanine is thought to have both antioxidant and relaxant effects. 1 Some animal studies have shown that the amino acid may also be helpful in lowering lipids in the blood , fighting obesity, and preventing cognitive dysfunction and stroke. 1 L-theanine has been shown to increase the anti-tumor activity of two cancer-fighting drugs, doxorubicin and idarubicin . 2,3

What Is the Scientific Evidence for L-Theanine?

Although there have been a handful of studies evaluating L-theanine for several conditions, 13 most research has been centered on its effects on mental status.

L-theanine has been shown to have a direct influence on brain activity, such as reducing stress. 4,12 At high doses (higher than usual doses found in a cup of black tea [20 mg (milligrams)]), it has the ability to relax the mind without causing drowsiness. One study measured a type of activity in the brain, called alpha activity, which plays an important role in attention. 5 Thirty-five participants were given either 50 mg of L-theanine or placebo. Electroencephalogram (EEG) tests were done at baseline and then at specified times afterwards (45, 60, 75, 90, and 105 minutes). Researchers found that there was a greater increase in alpha activity in those who took L-theanine compared to placebo, demonstrating that the amino acid had an effect on the participants’ general state of mental alertness and arousal.

A handful of studies have also looked at the combination of L-theanine and caffeine on various aspects of cognition and mood (eg, alertness, attention). 8,9,10,11 For instance, one study compared the effect of caffeine with and without L-theanine on cognition and mood in 27 participants. 10 Researchers gave participants placebo, caffeine, or caffeine plus L-theanine and measured their performance on several cognitive tests at baseline and then at 60 and 90 minutes after treatment. They found that the combination of caffeine and L-theanine improved speed and accuracy in an attention-switching task, as well as reduced the likelihood of distraction during a memory task. Caffeine alone did improve alertness and accuracy.

Researchers in Korea conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to look at the effect of a LGNC-07, a combination of theanine and green tea extract, on memory and attention in 91 people with mild cognitive impairment. 6 Half of the participants were given 1,680 mg of LGNC-07 and the other half was given placebo for 16 weeks. Memory and word tests were conducted, as well as EEG tests. The researchers found that LGNC-07 improved memory and selective attention, as well as cognitive alertness.

Another small study also found the amino acid to have a positive effect in reducing anxiety . 7 The double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study was made up of 60 people diagnosed with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder . Of the 40 patients who completed the study, L-theanine was associated with reduced anxiety and was found to be well-tolerated and safe.

Safety Issues

There have not been any side effects reported from taking L-theanine. However, drinking large amounts of green tea in general may cause upset stomach, irritability, and nausea due to the tea’s caffeine content. Also, do not take L-theanine if undergoing chemotherapy or are taking lipid-lowering medicines or sedatives, since L-theanine may alter the effects of these drugs.

Revision Information

  • 1

    L-theanine. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center website. Available at: http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/69285.cfm . Updated December 10, 2010. Accessed August 15, 2011.

  • 2

    Sugiyama T, Sadzuka Y. Combination of L-theanine with doxorubicin inhibits hepatic metastasis of M5076 ovarian sarcoma. Clin Cancer Res . 1999;5(2):413-416.

  • 3

    Sadzuka Y, Sugiyama T, Sonobe T. Improvement of idarubicin induced antitumor activity and bone marrow suppression by L-theanine, a component of tea. Cancer Lett . 2000;158(2):119-124.

  • 4

    Juneja LR. Suntheanine and its relaxation effect in humans. Trends in Food Science & Tech . 1999;10;199-204.

  • 5

    Nobre AC, Rao A, Owen GN. L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr . 2008;17 Suppl 1:167-168.

  • 6

    Park SK, Jung IC, Lee WK, et al. A combination of green tea extract and l-theanine improves memory and attention in subjects with mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled study. J Med Food . 2011;14(4):334-343.

  • 7

    Ritsner MS, Miodownik C, Ratner Y, et al. L-theanine relieves positive, activation, and anxiety symptoms in patients with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder: an 8-week, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, 2-center study. J Clin Psychiatry . 2011;72(1):34-42.

  • 8

    Giesbrecht T, Rycroft JA, Rowson MJ, De Bruin EA. The combination of L-theanine and caffeine improves cognitive performance and increases subjective alertness. Nutr Neurosci . 2010;13(6):283-290.

  • 9

    Einöther SJ, Martens VE, Rycroft JA, De Bruin EA. L-theanine and caffeine improve task switching but not intersensory attention or subjective alertness. Appetite . 2010;54(2):406-409.

  • 10

    Owen GN, Parnell H, De Bruin EA, Rycroft JA. The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood. Nutr Neurosci . 2008;11(4):193-198.

  • 11

    Haskell CF, Kennedy DO, Milne AL, Wesnes KA, Scholey AB. The effects of L-theanine, caffeine, and their combination on cognition and mood. Biol Psychol . 2008;77(2):113-122.

  • 12

    Kimura K, Ozeki M, Juneja LR, Ohira H. L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biol Psychol . 2007;74(1):39-45.

  • 13

    Miyagawa K, Hayashi Y, Kurihara S, Maeda A. Co-administration of l-cystine and l-theanine enhances efficacy of influenza vaccination in elderly persons: nutritional status-dependent immunogenicity. Geriatr Gerontol Int . 2008;8(4):243-250.